In the East Hall, the Gentry are called Takers-And-Givers. Marie had her best 2B pencil stolen only to find three packs of pencils - different hardnesses, sizes, colours - in her room that evening. Charley’s bottles of milk were stolen in the first week of term but now their whole flat gets weekly deliveries of dairy far better than any bought at the local shops. Sanjeet’s flowers were decimated a week before Valentines, but now they’re the best and brightest blooming flowers on campus.
First they Take and then, later, they Give, something of equal or more value. No one seems to know how or why, it just is, until the new kid arrives in halls - a late transfer, some incident at their last uni dogging her steps, giving her haunted eyes and probably-nightmares and arms clutched close around her chest whenever someone looms too close.
When people ask, she says to call her Ravenna. That that’s not her name, but her actual name isn’t one she trusts anymore, that it makes her feel unsafe in her own skin. So everyone in the Hall calls her Ravenna, or, sometimes, Blackbird if they know her well enough, and give her space.
She hates beyond hate to be touched.
Marie sees her one day, within touching distance of one of the Takers-and-Givers often seen around East Hall. They go by Darling - an odd moniker for a six foot creature with a greenish cast to their skin and a bird’s nest of hair, but no one would ever dare say anything to them. They stand just within arms-reach of Ravenna, watching down at the short girl with half-narrowed eyes.
“I don’t want to be afraid,” Ravenna is saying. “I'm sick of it. They say you can help with that, that you can take something away and give something in return. Can you take away my fear?”
Marie almost bolts down the hall to Ravenna, almost warns her against making a deal with the Takers-And-Givers, almost warns her against even mentioning the distance they are from normal but Darling only smiles gently, politely, not the predatory way they had when Marcus from Sumner’s Hall had tried to strike a bargain.
“No one can take your fear,” Darling says. “It’s yours. But if you give me a taste of it then I will give you protection when you are fearing.”
Marie starts backing down the hall, back towards her room, but she still sees Ravenna pause, nod, and go completely rigid as Darling bends their head to gently kiss her.
A wind blows down the hall, smelling of chickens and straw and Michaelmas daisies and Darling is vanished.